Cliff Lynch on Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 11 Jan 2007 16:15:39 -0500

Pertinent Prior AmSci Topic Thread:
    "Cliff Lynch on Institutional Archives" (started Mar 2003)

At the SPARC/ARL Forum on "Improving Access to Publicly Funded Research
Policy Issues and Practical Strategies" (Oct 20 2006)
Cliff Lynch presented "Improving Access to Research Results: Six Points"

Some of Cliff's points are welcome and valid; some a bit more

> 1. Open Access Is Inevitable: How Best to Get There?
> I don't want to spend time here arguing about a precise definition of
> open access -- suffice it to say that open access means an increased
> elimination of barriers to the use of the scholarly literature...

Unfortunately, it does not suffice to say that OA is just "increased
elimination of barriers to the use of the scholarly literature."

OA is a very specific *special case* of the "increased elimination
of barriers to the use of the scholarly literature," and it does not
help to dissolve that specific case into the vaguer general category of
"reducing barriers".

OA is: free online access to peer-reviewed research journal articles.

Neither (i) the specific problem that OA is specifically meant to solve --
that of making research accessible to all its would-be users online --
nor (ii) the specific means of solving that problem is brought into
focus by blurring the objective into "reducing barriers."

The means of solving the specific problem of OA is for researchers'
institutions and funders to mandate OA self-archiving ("Green OA").

    "Optimizing OA Self-Archiving Mandates: What? Where? When? Why? How?"

And although there is a link between research accessibility and
journal affordability, that link is indirect, and subtle, in the
online age. It would be incorrect and simplistic to imagine that
the research accessibility problem and the journal affordability
problem (or their respective solutions) are one and the same. They
are not.

> There's been a lot of discussion about the desirability and potential
> implications of federal government mandates about deposit and access
> to the reports of findings of federally funded research. We should
> not forget that, even in disciplines where federal agencies are
> generous funders, a substantial part of the literature reports on
> the results of research that isn't federally funded.

That is why the discussion is about funder *and* institutional
mandates: That covers all research output, funded and unfunded.
(See Lynch's own Point 2.)

> In my view, when we think about the fundamental integrity of
> the scholarly record available for open access via the Internet,
> we would be much better served if we can make the shift to open
> access at the level of entire journals or entire publisher journal
> portfolios rather than article by article.

100% OA would be welcome in any way it could be provided, whether
Green OA, by self-archiving 100% of journal articles, or Gold OA,
by converting 100% of journals to OA publishing, and then publishing

But most publishers are not converting to OA Gold publishing; and
funders and institutions cannot mandate that they convert.

Moreover (as Cliff points out in two of his other, valid points
below) there is the sticky question of the per-article *asking
price* for OA Gold publishing, which is rather arbitrary at this
time. Gold OA is not worth purchasing at any price -- in view of
the fact that Green OA is available as an alternative, and can be mandated,
and can drive the price of Gold OA to the true cost of the essentials.

Hence there is no earthly reason to wait and hope for a direct
transition to 100% OA via Gold OA, journal by journal. What needs
to be OA is the *articles,* and those can and should and will be made
100% OA via institution/funder self-archiving mandates of exactly
the kind that are increasingly being implemented and proposed today:

If there is to be Gold OA at all, then the road to Gold OA is via Green
OA. But once we have mandated 100% Green OA, we already have 100% OA,
so whether or not there is eventually a transition to Gold OA becomes
supererogatory. Rather than speculate about it now, we should get on
with the do-able task of mandating and providing Green OA.

> We know from past experience that it's very difficult for many
> users of the scholarly record to understand what they are navigating
> and exploiting when there's only partial coverage.

The remedy for that "partial coverage" is not to keep waiting for
(and/or to pay the pre-emptive asking price of) journal by journal
Gold OA, but to mandate Green OA right now, so we can reach 100%
OA at long last.

> Of course, if we can't persuade the journals and the publishers to
> support the move to open access, we'll have to go to less optimal
> approaches like author self-archiving and mandates by specific
> research funding agencies (both government and private).

How much longer does Cliff propose that we to wait, trying to
persuade journals and publishers to move? (We have already been
waiting well over a decade now.)

And what determines whether the asking price is the right one?

> it may well be that the threat of legislation mandating deposit
> of research results may be doing more good, in terms of advancing
> progress and focusing discussion on the issues with a certain sense
> of urgency, than actual legislation would. And while I'm not opposed
> to legislative intervention here, I'd hope that any legislation that
> is enacted is transparent and invisible to authors who publish with
> journals that appropriately support open access.

It is gratifying to hear that Cliff is not opposed to OA mandates,
but this sounds a bit confusing, or confused: The mandates are to
self-archive published articles (Green) not to publish in OA journals
(Gold). The goal is to generate OA (Green), not to pressure publishers
into converting to Gold.

If what Cliff means is that mandates should not constrain publishers'
choice of journals, I agree; but journals need not even be mentioned.
Only the requirement to deposit the final peer reviewed draft, as
soon as it is accepted for publication, needs to be mentioned. And
if the mandates allow an embargo period at all (I don't think they
should, or need to, but if they are nevertheless bent upon allowing
it, as some appear to be), let the allowable embargo be minimal (6
months at most) and during the embargo period, while the deposit
is in Closed Access rather than Open Access, all research access
needs can be fulfilled via the semi-automatic EMAIL EPRINT REQUEST
button in each Institution's Repository, which provides almost-immediate,
almost-OA on an individual basis. Such a mandate also moots any
journal copyright policy issues that might have constrained the
journal-choice of the author in complying with the mandate.

> 2. Universities Have a Key Stake in the Future of the Scholarly
> Literature and Thus Should Support Faculty in Negotiations with
> Publishers

Here Cliff is perhaps advocating mandated rights negotiation, which
would not be a bad idea *if* it could be successfully adopted over
author objections that it too could constrain their choice of

And successful rights negotiation is not really necessary as a
precondition for mandated self-archiving. Immediate deposit can be
mandated without any reference to journal policy; 70% of journals
already endorse immediate setting of access to Open Access. For the
remaining 30%, access can be provisionally set to Closed Access and
the EMAIL EPRINT REQUEST button can tide over usage needs during
any embargo period. (Embargos will soon collapse under OA usage
pressure in any case, as self-archiving grows.)

So the best thing universities can do for OA is not just to throw
their weight behind rights negotiations, but to mandate immediate
deposit, complementing the funder mandates.

> My worst nightmare is that rights to the scholarly literature become
> so fragmented

Practices should not be dictated by nightmares but by clear reasoning,
in the light of day: Once the full-texts of all articles are
self-archived and freely accessible online, the uses Cliff
envisages (automatic harvesting, data-mining, etc.) will all come
with the territory. No need to keep them all in the same (Gold)
journal for that.

> Again, this connects to the theme of the overall integrity of the
> scholarly record, and our need to be able to manage this record
> at scale.

The scholarly record will now be distributed across a worldwide
network of interoperable Institutional Repositories. Articles and
data will be the principal items of interest; and the journal they
appeared in will simply be among their metadata tags.

> 3. We Need to Talk Directly about the Support of Scholarly Societies

Here Cliff rightly calls into question whether the other "good
works" of Scholarly Societies should continue to be subsidised by
authors' lost research impact. The answer, of course, is No; and
that will become clear to all once it is discussed openly.

But, again, what is at issue is not cajoling or coercing publishers
-- whether Scholarly-Society, commercial or otherwise -- to convert
to Gold. (It would be helpful if they endorsed immediate Green, but
even that is only desirable, but not necessary in advance.)

> their journals typically are viewed as offering high quality at
> reasonable cost, and there's no reason that they shouldn't continue
> to be highly competitive if one moves away from a reader-pays model.

Not if one stays with the model and simply mandates self-archiving
(with or without publisher endorsement). (And, to repeat, OA is not
solely, or primarily about OA Gold: it is about OA. No need to move
way from models: just to move fingers to keyboard in order to deposit

> 4. We Need to Think about What We Can Afford in Scholarly Publishing

This recommendation too, is far too focussed on OA Gold and its
speculative economics.

What "we" need to do is to forget about affordability and to mandate
OA self-archiving. And to move our fingers to the keyboard, to get
going on the depositing...

> One takes the operating budget or historic revenue stream of a
> given journal and divides by the number of articles published
> or submitted, and announces the per-published-article cost (or
> submitted-article-cost, if one uses that model) for an open access
> journal.

I agree that this is an extremely arbitrary way of setting the
asking price for OA Gold publishing. The only essential component
of that current price is the cost of implementing peer review, which
is somewhere between $50 and $500 per article.

But I don't agree that we should be fussing about that now at all.
It's late in the day. Time to forget about Gold Fever and get the
fingers moving, to provide immediate OA.

> Perhaps the system needs to be redesigned to deliver a price point per
> article that we can afford. Suppose we redesigned journal publishing
> with the goal of $100 per article published?

Pick your price, but this is virtual design of a virtual solution:
Pre-emptive OA Gold.

The actual solution requires no guesstimating or publishing reform,
voluntary or coerced, nor this continued waiting and speculation: It
just requires that researchers' institutions and funders mandate
OA self-archiving, now.

(And who are "We"? We are the research community: We can mandate
self-archiving. We can move our fingers to provide the OA. But we
can't redesign journal publishing. And we don't need to. That's not
what OA is about. OA is about providing OA. Gold is just one possible
way to provide OA, and it's proving to be an extremely slow and
uncertain one, spending far more time contemplating hypothetical
economics than providing actual OA. And it can't be mandated. Green,
in contrast, can and does provide immediate OA, and awaits only
being mandated in order to expand to 100%. And the mandates are on
the way. Because they come from Us, the research community, the
providers and users of the articles that we are seeking to make OA.
No need to "redesign" anything but our digital kinematics --
and I don't mean financial or even cybernetic digits, but the
dactyls at the beck and call of every one of us...)

But Cliff is back at the financial digits:

> Or, if articles really must cost several thousand dollars each,
> and we are unwilling to deal with the implications or results of
> massively reducing costs, we need to explore what can we do to reduce
> the number of articles going into this costly system.

By now, we have long forgotten the immediate, pressing, solvable
problem, which is OA, and we have launched into the usual round of
passive armchair speculations about the journal affordability problem
and publishing reform.

> similar questions can and should be asked about monograph publishing

Yes, but let those questions and answers be kept separate from the
problem at hand, which is OA, i.e., in the first instance, Open
Access to the 2.5 million articles published yearly in the world's
24,000 peer reviewed journal, every single one of which is and
always has been an author give-away, written solely for the sake
of usage and impact, not for the sake of earning royalty revenue.
Not true of monographs.

First things first. Let's mandate and reach 100% OA for OA's primary
target, journal articles, and then contemplate the generalizability of
our fabulous success to other forms of literature.

In the meantime, no one is stopping monograph authors (or their
fingers) from making their books OA too, if they so wish, and if
their publishers can afford to publish them anyway. But let us not
contemplate *mandating* that sort of thing just yet!

> 5. Open Access Is Not a Threat to Peer Review: In Fact, It Has
> Nothing to Do with Peer Review -- but It Is Also Time to Talk about
> Peer Review

Yes, it is not a threat. Yes, it has nothing to do with it. And no,
OA is not the context to talk about peer review. (If this is the time,
then it should be talked about separately, elsewhere; nothing to do with

> The economic model underlying a journal has nothing to do with
> its peer review policy -- or its quality. There are many online
> journals that practice rigorous peer review. Indeed, going beyond
> just peer review, there seems to be no correlation between journal
> cost and quality.

These truisms are worth repeating, since so many still fail to grasp

But Cliff raises them misleadingly: OA is not the same thing as
Gold OA. The peer-review issue is not just raised as a question
about the quality standards of Gold OA journals. It is also raised
by some publishers who keep proclaiming willy-nilly the doomsday
scenario that mandating Green OA self-archiving will destroy journals
and peer review. That is the empty alarmism that needs to be exposed
for what it really is:

    Berners-Lee, T., De Roure, D., Harnad, S. and Shadbolt, N. (2005)
    Journal publishing and author self-archiving: Peaceful Co-Existence
    and Fruitful Collaboration.

> At the same time -- and having just emphasized the complete disconnect
> between open access and peer review, I almost hate to mention this
> for fear of adding to the confusion -- we are long overdue for
> a nuanced analysis and reevaluation of peer review practices in
> scholarly publishing as an entirely separate issue from open access.

Don't mention it (in this context)!

It is indeed irrelevant to OA and only adds confusion to confusion,
and delay and indecision to what has already been near-paralysis
for far too long...

> We need to understand the extent of these costs and their implications.

The costs of peer review alone can be vaguely estimated now, and
have been:

But the only way to determine the *true* costs of peer review alone
(once all other obsolescent publishing functions have been jettisoned
[like print] or offloaded [like online access-provision and archiving]
onto the distributed network of OA IRs) is to mandate Green and then let
nature take its course in the online era.

(Don't ask me why nature couldn't take its course without the help
of mandates, when 34,000 researchers were ready to do the keystrokes
threatening to boycott their journals if they did not provide OA,
but it never occurred to them to go ahead and do the keystrokes to
provide the OA themselves! I don't know the answer. It's a paradox,
and I've dubbed it Zeno's Paralysis. But the affliction is curable,
by mandates, freely applied to the research community's body politick....)

    Harnad, S. (2006) Opening Access by Overcoming Zeno's Paralysis,
    in Jacobs, N., Eds. Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and
    Economic Aspects, chapter 8. Chandos.

> 6. Scholarly Publishing Is a Means to an End

> Just because the existing scholarly publishing system has served
> the academy fairly well in the past does not mean that it has an
> intrinsic right to continue to exist in perpetuity.

Let those who wish to reform the scholarly publishing system to
better serve the academy so declare their intentions and proceed
full-speed with their worthy agenda. But let those who merely wish
to maximise online access to a very specific subset of scholarly
publications (peer-reviewed research articles), right now, proceed
toward their specific, distinct, immediately reachable goal (OA)
without being hamstrung by other admirable but irrelevant agendas.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Fri Jan 12 2007 - 10:08:46 GMT

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